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County Council, March 21

Unexpected financial windfalls
Staff to each receive one-time $1000 bonus
Warwick Jones

The news was good in the Fiscal 2013 mid-year financial review by staff. The Finance Committee was told that revenues in Fiscal 2012 (to June 30) were $2.9 million higher than originally projected in the General Fund, and receipts of the Debt Service Fund, $1.7 million higher. And there was good news for Fiscal 2013 as well. Largely because of higher than projected revenue from delinquent tax collection, the Local Option Sales Tax, and RMC fees and stamps, revenues in the General Fund were expected to be $5.5 million higher than last projected.

These things of course were well received. But they created an issue. How would the unanticipated higher revenues be spent, at least those relating to Fiscal 2012?

Staff in its presentation suggested that the higher receipts in the Debt Service Fund be applied to the Fiscal 2014 budget. This would allow millage rates to remain steady. There was no argument. But there was much argument about its second proposal - to give all permanent staff a one-time bonus of $1000 at an estimated cost to the County of about $2.5 million. Staff noted that there had been few Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) in the recession. And County Administrator Taylor said that such a bonus would be good for employee morale. Staff also indicated that the cost of health insurance, provided by the state, was about to go up 9% for employees (and the County’s share by 16%) The bonus would provide some offset.

Council members Schweers, Qualey and Sass were unhappy about the bonus. Council member Schweers suggested that a decision on a bonus be deferred until the Fiscal year 2104 budget discussion, only some weeks away. He also wanted to know what other Counties were doing. Council member Qualey went further and suggested that the higher than projected revenue should go back to tax payers. He noted the hard ship of many of his constituents because of the recession and contrasted their position with employees of the County who had secure jobs. Only Council member Qualey and Sass opposed the bonus. Council member Schweers abstained and Council member Rawl was absent.

There was no discussion about the increased revenues now projected for Fiscal 2013. Staff indicated that there were still uncertainties in relation to some costs. An early spring and high mosquito populations may require heavier spending on control. There were also issues with Consolidated Dispatch and the earlier than anticipated integration of Mount Pleasant into the system. However, staff also anticipated overall savings in the General Fund continuing at its historical level of 1% representing about $1.5 million.

Staff also indicated that Transportation tax revenues were trending higher that when last estimated. When the tax was first introduced, it was expected to raise $1.3 billion over its 20 year life. A year ago, the estimate was only $1.2 billion but now staff is projecting $1.25 billion. This was encouraging, as bonds had been issued by the County, the interest and amortization of which were supported by the tax.

Revenues were also rising above previous projections for the Accommodation Tax. And this led into a request from North Charleston for a grant of $35,000 in support of Dixie Youth, an annual baseball event. A major part of the grant would go to construction of a press box on the field.

There was heated debate, more about principle than the amount of money. Should the request be “scored” by the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), as were most Accommodation Tax grants? And even if it is scored, is it relevant? There have been many allocations that have bypassed the scoring system. And if there is a surplus in any fund, such as that relating to the Accommodation tax, shouldn’t all Council members be informed? The submission by North Charleston may have merit, but there may be other projects with equal merit in districts besides North Charleston. Most Council members were unaware of the surplus in the Accommodation Tax fund, it seems.

North Charleston got its funding with Council member Schweers and Condon opposed. Council member Qualey abstained.

Last night, the Finance Committee also agreed to award the construction contract for the Law Enforcement Center on Leeds Avenue and contiguous to the County offices. The $4.8 million contract with Palmetto Construction calls for the renovation of the existing building of about 100,000 sq., and the construction of another amounting to 13,000 sq. ft. The latter will be earthquake proof and contain the Sheriff’s office and also serve as a center in the event of an emergency. The buildings will house most of the departments under the Sheriff’s jurisdiction. The cost of the renovation and new building was covered in the Fiscal 2013 budget.

Council member Qualey was not happy about the contract. The renovation and construction coupled with the original purchase cost would take the overall cost to more than $10 million. A building could have been bought for this amount, he suggested. When staff indicated that the cost of new construction could be more than $200 a sq., discussion ended.

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